It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and brewer Ric Hoffman is peering into a 25-barrel mash ton, cracking jokes.
“Compared to this, I practically work in a homebrew system,” he says.
Hoffman is Head Brewer at Stewart’s Brewing Company, in Bear, Del., but he’s spending the day at Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish Brewing Co., which makes in two weeks what Stewart’s does in a year. He’s surrounded by Casey Hughes, head brewer for Flying Fish, and Gordon Grubb, head brewer of Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant in Center City. The brewers are sleepily yet jovially gathered at this pre-coffee hour to undertake what has come to be a popular endeavor in the craft-beer world: a collaboration.
Scenes like this have been unfolding all over the Delaware Valley and Northern California as Philadelphia-area brewers and assorted local celebrity-level beer geeks ready themselves for Philly Beer Week by brewing no fewer than five collaborations to honor what’s come to be one of the region’s most celebrated drinking holidays. The projects have involved 25 people (not counting assistants and the like), thousands upon thousands of emails, more than 12 cross-country plane rides and up to seven months of planning for each group. The proud result: a small handful of kegs or casks you’ll be lucky to taste once.
We turned to Beer Week co-founder and journalist Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) to get the 4-1-1 on beer collabs. Russell and several Philly beer scribes and merchants went to Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., to collaborate on a brew.
“(That) may not have been a typical collaboration—it was more like group therapy,” he says.
The Beer: Exit 6 Wallonian Rye
The Characters: Casey Hughes, Flying Fish Brewing Co. Cherry Hill, N.J.; Ric Hoffman, Stewart’s Brewing Co., Bear, Del.; Gordon Grubb, Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, Philadelphia
The Brewery: Flying Fish
For the fifth installment of Flying Fish’s Exit Series, Casey Hughes called up his old buddies Hoffman and Grubb and asked them if they wanted to come over to his brewing house to play. This beer was Exit 6 (the exit on the NJ Turnpike that joins with the PA Turnpike). The threesome spent the next two months trading emails about the ingredients they wanted to toy with and finally decided on Belgian yeast and English, Slovenian and Japanese hops, and they bought rye from a farm in Burlington County, N.J., just off the honorary exit.
The final product is a dry-hopped, spicy and fruity Belgian rye ale that, at 7.5% ABV, is definitely not for lightweights. “We wanted to push some boundaries,” Hughes says. “We were not going to brew a lager.”
The beer will be released at Nodding Head on Saturday, June 5, at 3 p.m.
The Beer: BS1
The Characters: Brett Kintzer, Stoudts Brewing Co., Adamstown, Pa.; Bill Covaleski, Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, Pa.; Tom Kehoe, Yards Brewing Co., Philadelphia; John Trogner, Troegs Brewing Co., Harrisburg, Pa.; Brian O’Reilly, Sly Fox Brewing Co.,Royersford, Pa.;
The Brewery: Sly Fox
In his blog, beer writer Jack Curtin called this collaboration “the most extraordinary concentration of brewing skills ever gathered together with the possible exception of when Sam Calagione [founder and president of Dogfish Head in Milton, Del.] brewed alone,” and it’s only fitting that such a powerful cadre of brewers should be in charge of brewing Philly Beer Week’s first official brew.
BS1, named for the group that calls themselves “Brotherly Suds,” is an Extra Special Bitter whose flavor will remain a mystery until unveiled at Opening Tap, thanks to the fact that brewers didn’t fashion a recipe. Instead, they formed committees, each of which would deal with a different ingredient. It wasn’t a way to be creative, but a way for five busy brewers to save time.
So does that mean PBW’s first official brew might not actually taste good? Doubtful, considering the expertise that went into crafting it. But on the off chance it sucks, O’Reilly says it’s likely people won’t even notice.
“It’s such a small batch of beer I don’t know that we’re really going to have time to reflect on it. It’ll get released and it’ll be gone,” he says.
One-offs, or Beers That Are Only Meant to be Brewed Once, In This Case By People Other Than Brewers:
The Beer: ExPorter (spelling not finalized as of publication)
The Characters: Andy Dickerson, Teresa’s Next Door, Wayne, Pa; Tom Peters, Monk’s Café, Philadelphia; Fergie Carey, Fergie’s Pub, Philadelphia; Terry McNally, London Grill, Philadelphia; Brad Martin, Isaac Newton’s, Newtown, Pa.; Mike “Scoats” Scotese, The Grey Lodge Pub, Philadelphia; Brendan Hartranft, Memphis Taproom/Local 44/Resurrection Ale House, Philadelphia; Bruce Nichols, The HeadHouse, Philadelphia; Don Russell (“Joe Sixpack”), Philadelphia Daily News; Lew Bryson, freelance beer writer; Greg Ramirez, Exton Beverage Co., Exton, Pa.; Matt Guyer, The Beeryard, Wayne, Pa.;
The Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif.
“No way am I going to make fucking Belgian beer in California, and I don’t want to make anything extreme.” Such were the proclamations of Terry McNally as she informed her fellow Philadelphia craft-beer pioneers of what exactly they would and would not do when they arrived as invited guests to Sierra Nevada’s “Beer Camp,” where the 12 of them would together brew a beer of their design. Maybe it’s thanks to her mouth or maybe it’s just because she was the only woman at the camp, but at the end of the trip her “brothers,” as she calls them, named the beer in her honor. They’re calling their 6% ABV sour porter “ExPorter” and pouring it at their respective places of business throughout the week. Sierra will serve a small amount at its brew pub and next year’s PBW participants will get to taste a second round, thanks to an agreement by Russian River Brewing Co.’s owner to age it for a year in wooden pinot noir barrels at his facility in Santa Rosa, Calif.
The Beer: Fists of Feury
The Characters: Terence Feury, Fork, Philadelphia; Patrick Feury, Nectar, Berwyn, Pa.; Bill Covaleski, Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, Pa.
The Brewery: Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, Pa.
When Terence Feury was too young to buy beer, he did what any self-respecting future chef would do: He bought a homebrewing kit and made his own. Now, many years out of high school and employed as the executive chef at Old City’s Fork, he’s finally got the right tools and the right friends to make beer the right way. Feury partnered with his brother, Patrick, who’s executive chef at Nectar, and their old pal Bill Covaleski, brewmaster and president at Victory, to brew a crisp golden ale that’s dryhopped with rosemary and brewed with Centennial and Tettnang hops, and a malt used in Victory’s popular Prima Pils.
Founded in 1985 as the first microbrewery in Philadelphia and one of the earliest in the country, Dock Street Brewery stands as the epitome of innovation, independence and creativity.
Your drinking habits have always fascinated me. And so, with some free time on my hands, I decided to play social scientist. My theoretical foundation? Who gives a shit. My methodology? Rigorless. My apparatus? A pen, a notebook and a love of beer. Here, for the first time in print, I present my quasi-scientific study for peer review.
Despite the economy, the door has opened on a far greater number of bars, many of which exist primarily to pour the world’s best beers into our collective mouths.
Philly Beer Week 2010 is nearly upon us, and whether you’re enjoying a flight from a bomber or taking home a growler, we’ve got the beer terms you need to know. (Hint: Brett is more than just the name of that cute androgynous chick you picked up at McGlinchey’s last night.)
Keep your eyes open for our friends at Fox 29 TV for beer-centric broadcasts throughout Philly Beer Week.
Local brewers talk about their personal favorites, trends and why Philly is the best place to brew.
Summer and a cold one are natural companions, and Philly Beer Week presents fun-in-the-sun while quenching the throat with welcome refreshments.
Your guide to where to go and what to drink during Philly Beer Week 2010.
PW's Year of Beer: Yards PYNK